Marriage is something only couples can make or break
The state government has rightly decided to drop the proposal for pre-marriage counselling. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant scrapped it following opposition from various quarters, including his party, the BJP. The proposal was put forth to the government by Law Minister Nilesh Cabral. He wanted the would-be “life-partners” to undergo compulsory counselling regarding the values of marriage before final registration of the marriage. Cabral had cited the rise in the number of divorces as the reason for promoting pre-marriage counselling, which he felt would help save the marriages. The proposal was opposed by sections of various communities. Though the Chief Minister and BJP state president Sadanand Tanawade were opposed to the proposal, it found favour with Vidya Satarkar, the chairperson of the Goa State Women’s Commission.
The objections to the proposal moved by Cabral were on several grounds. According to the proposal, counselling was to be done immediately after the intent for marriage was made before the registrar and was to be conducted through the Goa Institute of Public Administration and Rural Development. There was also a proposal to allow religious institutions to join in the pre-marriage counselling. The involvement of counsellors in a decision that is supposed to be entirely between two adult persons was obviously deemed to be wrong, impractical and unethical. The idea was strongly opposed by the BJP president who said that elders in the families, including parents of the bride and the bridegroom, as well as the persons going to be married, have enough judgement to see what was good and what was bad in the marriage. There was no need for the state to meddle in an affair which was entirely private between two individuals and their families. Tanawade felt that rather than helping save the marriages such a proposal would be seen as an intrusion in family life and cause embarrassment and as such the state should not implement the proposal. According to him, Goa has a divorce rate of a mere 0.18 percent as compared to national average of 0.24 percent and that it should not be a matter of concern for the state authorities.
Goa follows the Uniform Civil Code in accordance with which all marriages have to be compulsorily registered before the civil registrar. It is a fact that divorces were few and far in between till a few decades ago. However, the trend changed over the last two decades as there has been an increase in the number of couples filing for divorce. Given the fact that marriages have to be dissolved following a court process, it takes years for people to separate and make a fresh beginning in life. Perhaps taking note of the situation, Cabral had mooted the proposal for compulsory pre-marriage counselling. He had claimed that the couples in the state were filing for divorce within six months to two years of marriage, but failed to come up with the data to back his claim of widespread prevalence of divorce among young couples. However, Cabral should know that divorce was a decision between two individuals and counselling would not be of any help. Goa State Women’s Commission chairperson Vidya Satarkar feels that the increase in divorce was due to use of social media and online dating sites, where young couples seek friendship for illicit relationship and extramarital affairs. But we cannot shut the internet for young couples. Divorce is more an issue between two individuals, the darkest pits of which the world might never know of.
There is no data to prove that pre-marriage counselling can help save marriages. One of the reasons for the increase in divorce is the growing economic independence of women, who would not take things lying down as they did in the past. Rather than making pre-marriage counselling compulsory, the state should leave it to the couples and their families to sort out the problems that might arise in marriage. Nilesh Cabral and Vidya Satarkar should learn to reconcile to the environment we are living in. This is an era where the old social institutions are crumbling under the pressure of individual freedom. This is an era where the individual is seen as more important than the institution.